At Simon Associates Management Consultants, one of our former clients was struggling with total disarray in her company, leading to significant financial losses, downsizing and job elimination, not to mention loss of trust in the markets her company serves. Describing how she was coping, she said: “I am resilient and somehow I will do just fine.”
Another client, and then a female acquaintance, too, told me the same thing — that they are resilient and will figure out how to deal with their present struggles and come out the other side.
Ah, resiliance, that crucial attribute that enables people to cope with the unexpected, unfamiliar, unwanted or simply the pain and challenges that life tosses at them. It's something I recently wrote about in an article for Forbes.com, which you can read here.
3 attibutes through the ages that have helped form human resilience
As an anthropologist, what is of particular significance to me is how these colleagues’ statements reminded me of the ways in which Homo sapiens have evolved, adapted and become the dominant Homo species on earth, as described in the excellent book by Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.
As I describe in my Forbes article, Harari believes that there are three major forces that propelled Homo sapiens into dominance:
1 Language and the symbols and meaning they give to our lives.
2 The stories, myths and fictions we create with language, allowing us to build everything from worldwide religions to huge corporations.
3 Herds (aka cultures). Humans prefer to live with others like themselves and with whom they share common beliefs, values, myths and behaviors.
How to be resilient? First, tell a story.
Science has proven that one of the major ways the brain operates is by taking facts and organizing them into a story. Once created, that story — a person’s perception of reality — then allows that person to sort reality to conform to it. Consequently, the first building block of a person’s resilience is crafting a meaningful story and then supporting it with facts. And that's precisely what my three colleagues did: each of them told me their story, which was their own perspective on what was happening in their business, in their family or in their marriage.
And as they told me their stories, I noticed a common theme. Each story started with the problem, then slowly encompassed the ways in which the person was personally dealing with the stress stemming from the problem. But most importantly, in each case, the narrator became the hero of his/her own tale. I realized that it the storytelling itself became a powerful way for them to cope. In other words, proclaiming their resilience made them resilient. Or at least corroborated that they were resilient.
Finding your own resilience
As I say in my Forbes article, if you’re going through some stressful difficulties and need to remind yourself of your resilience and ability to cope, go tell someone (or write down) your story. Make yourself the hero. Then listen to how you overcame the problem and came out the other side. That's when your own resilience will become clear to you.
Want some help telling your story? Download our "Build Your Resilience" Guide.
Work your way through this guide and see if it helps you discover your resilience by crafting your story, defining the problem, identifying your allies and describing how you conquered the stressful situation. Let us know how it worked for you; we'd love to hear.
From Observation to Innovation,
Andi Simon, Ph.D.
Corporate Anthropologist | President
Simon Associates Management Consultants